Chapter 1

Andrew Arthur McKinnon, Jr., stood with his feet spread wide, his arms across his chest. His head leaned forward, his jaw was clamped firmly shut. One eyebrow - the left - was high and the eye opened wide; the other brow was scrunched low, and the right eyelid was clamped shut. He stared into the face of a mirror that showed himself in twenty-five years: a bit pudgier, some extra lines, and the jet-black hair was grayed at the edges. There were some tell-tale lines around the blue eyes and a scar or two on the high upper lip that served as a reminder not to turn too quickly when there was a fight in a bar room. The glasses had slid down the long, angular nose, nice expensive gold frames that had been sat on, dropped, and found themselves under heavy boxes too many times. They were askew to the right as usual. The younger McKinnon was grateful for wearing his contacts, since his glasses always slid down the same way. He hated that look; it made him feel ridiculous. At least his glasses didn't have that trampled look, since young Drew was a bit more careful with things.
But Andrew Arthur McKinnon, Sr., didn't need them for close vision, so he didn't push them up. He struck the exact pose of his son - or actually the pose the son had adopted as his own.
They leaned in close together, almost nose to nose.
"And I said you're going, and that's IT!" McKinnon, Sr., growled.
McKinnon, Jr., glared. "I'm almost fuckin' eighteen! You can't make me."
The older McKinnon drew up to his full (barely) five-foot-eight-inch height as his backbone stiffened, and his lips drew tight. "The operative word there is almost eighteen. Until the 'almost' gets dropped, I can do any goddamn thing I want with you, and that includes puttin' you in a dress and marchin' you down Essex St. in broad day-light, if that's what it takes." He paused, then peered at his son again. "And I don't want any of your fuckin' gutter-mouth. Where'd you learn to talk that shit?"
By way of an answer, the younger McKinnon arched both eyebrows even higher, and smirked.
Sixty-seven year old Rita McKinnon chuckled as she eased herself back in her rocker. "Yeah, I wonder where he got it," she said sarcastically. "Talk about life's mysteries."
Andy McKinnon glared at his mother. "This is between us, Ma. If you're not gonna help, then it might be a good idea if you just butted out for a change. As a matter of fact, you shouldn't even be here. This is between him and me."
Rita, simply because she was Rita, wasn't about to be cowed. "I don't care what the will said, Andy. That was just getting around taxes. This was my house before your father died, and it's still my house. And this is my kitchen, and I'll sit wherever I choose. Oh, and one more thing, " she pointed out grandly. "You're still MY son even if you are 42 years old, and I'll thank you to behave."
She let it sink in slowly. Her pale gray eyes drilled both of her men, and she spoke in a low, soothing voice, but still an authoritative one. She sat in her rocker with the thin trail of smoke slowly rising from her left hand.
"I'm here because somebody has to referee between you two," the older lady said evenly. "It don't fall far from the tree, Andy McKinnon. He's got your mouth and he's got your stubborn streak. And I know where you BOTH got it, because I was married to him for thirty-seven years. You might say I've been through this before." She sucked in a deep puff off her Marlboro Gold, coughed softly, then sipped her coffee. She wasn't about to miss the replay of a fight she'd watched years ago. The situation was different, very different, but the attitudes were the same. There hadn't been any blood on the floor that time, and she had little doubt there would be this time. Her men had big mouths and hot tempers, but they were neither violent nor mean-spirited. They were just... opinionated. Sometimes loud in the expression of their opinions.
That argument hadn't ended well. She was determined this one would.
Andy turned back to his son, who was still cross-armed but now holding himself upright, trying to stretch his slender, 5'11" frame up to its fuller potential of the six feet he yearned for, just so he could enjoy the privilege of looking down at his old man a little more. His eyes were slits. It wasn't working, though. Somehow or other, Drew still felt five years old, and his father was still glaring over the edges of his glasses at him with that hard look in his eyes like he did when Drew was five. The only difference was he had to look up these days.
His father's voice didn't get any warmer, though. "Look, kid," he said, exasperated. "We've been stepping around this thing for a week. I've looked into the program, and I think it's a good idea. It's what you need."
And young Drew still wasn't prepared to give ground. "Yeah, well, I don't. It's my fu- er... it's my life, and I don't need you messin' with it. Case closed. I'm not goin' to no Christian Formation Center, and I'm not goin' to no brain-washin' program."
Andy scrunched his mouth up. This was really beginning to piss him off. Where did the kid get this kind of stubbornness?
"For the last time, it is not a brainwashing class," Andy spat. "This thing looks at all sides of the issue, and forces you to deal with... with... stuff."
"There's nothin' to deal with!" Drew snapped. "I don't need to be cured of anything!"
"Goddam it, I'm not talking about 'curing' you of anything. I'm talking about counseling! There's a lot to deal with, and you're gonna go upstairs, shower, and change into some decent clothes. I'm driving you there myself - I don't trust you to go on your own."
Drew's lip curled. "What? So I'm like eight, and daddy's gonna make me go to the cub scout meeting? And daddy's gonna make me walk into the building when we get there, too? I can always blow the place after you leave, Dad."
Andy narrowed his eyes and clenched his fists. "When you were eight, all it took was a swat across the ass. You're almost eighteen, as you keep reminding me, so it'll probably take a baseball bat nowadays. But if that's what it takes, that's what it takes . You're going to the Formation Center, and that's all there is to it. You got no place else to go. It's February, so knowing your love for the cold, there won't be any hangin' around the parking lot. And yeah, you could walk, but the CFC is way out in the sticks, so it'll be a long cold walk, too. Those cars out there are still under my name, and if you take off in one on me, I'll just have that mouthy ass of yours hauled off to jail, Drew. You don't wanna deal with the homo stuff at the Center, you can deal with it as the Bottom Boy of Cell Block C. And they won't care whether or not you like it!"
Drew flushed deeply at the reference and felt the heat rising inside him. He stood there with his mouth opening and closing for several seconds before he actually managed to speak. "I'm your son, for chrissakes!" he croaked. "I can't believe you're going to put me through all this... this shit!"
Andy let his breath out, ran his hand through his hair, and tried to find a cooler, calmer tone. It wasn't easy, though. The kid was never reasonable about anything. "Now, listen to me. I'm your father, and I can do this, and I'm going to. It's for your own good."
"You're sending me to a place to be re-programmed. I am not sick!"
Andy shook his head, staring down at the floor. "And for the last time, I'm telling you this is NOT some cult thing where they're gonna show you pictures of guys and give you electroshock therapy. This is counseling - that's all."
Drew gave him the single squint-eye again. "Why don't I believe that?"
Andy sighed, and shot a brief glance heavenward. "'Cuz sometimes you're dumber than a rock. Not to mention pig-headed."
Rita set down her coffee cup and inhaled deeply. "And I know where those qualities come from, too."
"Okay, I'll shut up."
Drew McKinnon stomped out of the room, and banged his way through the house and up the stairs to the second floor. The comfort of a solid wood door slamming wasn't lost on him, and he made the most of it - two, three, four times in rapid succession once he got to his room. His face was flushed red and his eyebrows were knitted fiercely together. He flipped over the privacy lock - and it wasn't lost on him that this single action could have saved him a lot of trouble if he'd only remembered to do it a few days before.
Drew flipped on some music, cranked it as loud as the speakers could bear, and tossed himself down on his bed, face perched on his folded arms. As an afterthought, he opened his nightstand and fished out a package of rarely-smoked cigarettes pilfered from his grandmother's ever-present carton, and lit one up. He gagged, ground it out, and decided maybe he really didn't need one after all.
All of this was so damn unnecessary. He really couldn't understand why his father was making such a fuss about it. Okay, he'd caught him "playing" on-line, but what was the big deal? It wasn't like he was out and actually doing something with somebody. Not like the times last summer when -
Don't go there, he told himself.
He'd put all that stuff behind him anyway. And last Saturday night was just for a kick, nothing more, and it was all because of that prick-tease, Melissa.
Drew had come home from his date with Melissa just like he always did when he'd been out with her, frustrated and incredibly horny. She'd teased and used every excuse she had to come in contact with him through the night. And like every good little straight boy, Drew dug into his wallet and paid for everything she wanted or hinted at. He wasn't even sure why, either. Melissa didn't even turn him on that much. He liked her ok, but that was all. But something in him said "I need her," and he'd been determined to keep what they had going. She'd made a major difference in his life.
Truth was, Melissa stopped a lot of talk about him.
He'd known her for years, and for all that time she'd flirted, trying to catch his eye, but Drew treated her like he did all the girls who seemed to fight for his attention; he paid no mind to her at all. He had dates of course - nice, safe ones, with girls that didn't much matter to him. Never anything heavy, and if things started to get heavy, he found a reason to call it quits. And right up to his junior year, it had worked.
Then, one afternoon on his way to study hall, he overheard something at school late in his junior year, just after he'd turned seventeen. Two of his friends who weren't quite as out of earshot as they thought let it slip that maybe Drew wasn't really interested in chicks at all. One mentioned he was pretty sure he'd seen Drew's gray Sebring convertible down near the Common in Lawrence late at night. The Common served two purposes after dark: one was a place to get your drug of choice. Lawrence still had its reputation as the drug-clearing house of northern Massachusetts. Except it was known that while Drew liked his beer, he never touched anything heavier than the occasional bit of weed.
"Drew don't do drugs," Doug said firmly.
"Maybe not," Reggie said with a leer. " But it's one of those places fags go. You know... to hook up," he added pointedly.
Doug turned to Reg in wide-eyed wonder, with a face that wanted to believe. Or at least believe enough to spread a rumor. "Ya think?"
Drew didn't wait to hear what Reg thought, or even to wonder what Reg was doing there in the first place, since he didn't do drugs either. He ducked into an open classroom and leaned against the wall in a panic, breathing heavily. That Wednesday afternoon, he asked Melissa to go out with him on Friday. By the following Friday, they were popularly known as the 'new couple' around Lawrence Catholic. So far as he could tell, Doug and Reg accepted the new situation, and gave no sign that they thought it was some sort of sham. More important, no ugly rumors started to float. Drew had dodged the fag tag before, and he didn't want to go through that again, this late in his high school career. And having learned an important lesson, Drew changed his nocturnal habits and dealt with certain things in a much different way after that.
One of those ways was like last Saturday.
He'd dropped Melissa off around midnight. She'd done her best to tease Drew all night long, constantly rubbing against him when others were around, making the most of being out with one of the best-looking and hardest-to-get guys in the school. She knew that for some reason Drew never pressed much for her to put out, and she liked that. He went through all the motions, but when the final moment came she would just say "no," and obedient little Drew would pull back. She never noticed that this was a relief for him too, but then worrying about other people wasn't Melissa's style. She'd offered him a couple of hand jobs, even started them a few times, but Drew never went through with it. That didn't keep her from doing her best to get Drew as worked up as possible, and Saturday she'd done her best to get him right to the edge before saying she had to get home for her curfew. Drew was ready for the hand job that night, too. He hadn't touched himself for three days before their date. Usually he pumped off before he left the house.
Clenching his teeth but without a word, Drew started the engine of the convertible and drove her to her door. Melissa gave him a quick kiss, not enough to get Drew started up again, but enough to keep her in his fantasies that night. She liked the idea of a tortured Drew pounding himself thinking about her. Of course, it never happened, but she couldn't have known that. She'd walked slowly to her door, hoping to look as sexy as possible, and never looked back at her boyfriend as the front porch sensors saw her and the yard was filled with light. She did note with some satisfaction the sound of a gunned engine and the chirping of the tires as he drove off into the night. She wouldn't have liked the flipped finger though, since Melissa loved to be in charge.
All the way home, Drew sat there with his cock throbbing in his pants, cursing Melissa. He could still feel her hand rubbing and stroking him through the coarse denim, exulting in her feeling of control as she watched his clenched eyes. Of course, what she didn't realize was happening behind those closed eyes was a completely different scenario than the one she was playing out. Drew pictured quite a different body connected to that fondling hand.
With all the control he could muster, Drew drove back to his house in North Andover, fighting the voice in the back of his mind that told him to get on the highway and drive to a place he knew he could get some satisfaction -- real satisfaction. Drew was a good-looking young man, and he could always count on finding someone interested in him if he went to the right place. He'd proven that over and over again since last spring and summer. But this was a Friday night in February, which meant that everyone was out, and he was desperately afraid of being spotted again, particularly if he parked some place he shouldn't. That kept him in check. But he had an idea what he could do, and he grinned. He'd sped home, knowing exactly which alternative he was going to indulge in.
He jerked the car to an abrupt halt in the long driveway, next to his father's F-250 and fairly ran into the house, Need thumping in the crotch of his faded jeans. The house was dark, about what he would expect for that hour. His father and his grandmother would have turned in long ago. He moved stealthily through the house, praying that neither of them got up and started their cheery "Well how was the date?" routines. He just wanted to get into his room and peel off his clothes.
Once in his room he'd almost slammed the door out of habit, but caught himself just in time. He flicked on his temperamental Compaq Presario and tore off his clothes until he was only in his boxers and white sox. He pulled on a Red Sox cap, the brim low enough to shadow his face, hiding his features. He flicked off the ceiling light so the rest of the room would be in shadow. He aimed a small reading lamp that was angled down from the side so the light washed across his chest and lower body. It spot lit his body, but not his face.
Setting up his mood, he clicked over his display to show "web content" on the monitor, and a collage of guy-on-guy pics sprung up on his screen, replacing the wallpaper display of the Earth seen from space. If he'd been solid before, he managed to stiffen even more just looking at the photos... He was well aware that his cock was no longer tenting out the front of his shorts but had sprung free. He gripped it lightly and gave it a few tentative strokes, but fought the impulse to go even further. He logged into under his well-known cyber name and clicked over to the youth floor. His profile was there, laying out exactly what he was up for. It took awhile to get into TeenBoys1, just like it always did, but once inside, windows opened for him just like always. Drew saw a name he recognized well and shut down the others. The two made arrangements to meet at KameraBuddies and Drew switched on his net cam and plugged in his headphones. As an extra treat, he fired up some hot dance tracks to play in the background. The other boy's image appeared in the window, and his low voice crackled over the headphones, over the sound of the music.
"Hey, bro. Long time no see."
Unlike Drew, his partner's face wasn't hidden, and Drew saw again the clear blue eyes and the short-cropped corn-yellow hair. He had one of those faces you expected to see in a Marine recruitment ad. This guy was the opposite of Drew in almost every way: he was built solid as a rock to Drew's slender body - a weight-trainer type. Drew worked out, but it was more in the nature of toning exercises. He never really felt the desire to bulk-up. But he didn't mind looking at a builder by any means, and this guy filled the imagination as well as the screen.
It got better though. Drew had run into the guy twice over the course of the summer, and they'd lived out some of their cyber sessions. They'd run into each other a third time, too, but Drew didn't want to deal with that memory much at the moment. So it was an even better reason for him to be wearing the cap.
It didn't take long to get into the main event. "LoadBoi" angled the camera down slowly over his body, and Drew took in the muscular, almost hairless chest. Then the wispy treasure trail that began under the navel, and finally...
Drew gulped. God, the guy's hung.
Drew wasn't at all bad in that department, but he couldn't hold a candle to what LoadBoi displayed. The other young man's hand was wrapped around the incredible tool and slowly tugged at himself. Drew followed suit, but careful not to go too far. Loady always liked to take his time. Drew reached up and angled the camera onto his chest and began to tweak over a nipple. He began speaking the details in his low, hoarse, but somehow sexy voice of what he was doing to his chest, all the while showing himself on display, and his hand slowly working himself down below. Drew closed his eyes and fell into the fantasy whispered in his ears by that strange voice, occasionally opening the lids long enough to see Loady working himself, and that just got him hotter and hotter.
LoadBoi shifted his attention lower, and Drew responded by tilting his camera down further and easing back in the chair to better put himself on display as he slipped his boxers down and let them gather at his ankles. God, what Loady was describing... and even better, it was exactly what Drew had done to the boy on two of the three occasions they'd met. Drew quickened his pace, knowing what would be coming before long, and he wanted the timing to be close. Maybe he couldn't actually be there, but he wanted their session to be as close to the real thing as they could manage since... well, there wouldn't be any real sessions anymore.
Drew knew he wasn't exactly straight, but he wasn't about to give in completely and ruin his life. That's why he had Melissa, and when that was over he'd find another chick like her... but just maybe someone a little more giving, and then maybe Drew could abandon the kind of thing he was indulging in right now. Maybe Drew wasn't all straight, but he didn't like the idea of being all gay. Bi would be okay, but only just a little bit bi. Once he had the right girl, he was sure he'd be able to function in life like any normal guy and not waste his time with this stuff anymore. How many grown men got into cyber sex?
Load talked him through it, and Drew was getting closer and closer to the finish line. His cyber partner was close too, Drew could hear the tell-tale sound in his voice and he kept stealing looks at the real-blonde's busy hand, which was almost a blur. He clenched his eyes, and -- oh, yeah...
Drew heard the word "SHIT!" through the head-phones and his eyes flew open expecting to see his blonde stud's abdomen covered with semen as much as his own was, but all he saw was the blank spot in the middle of all the rutting and sucking men that decorated his screen. Then he felt his chair swing smartly around, and he saw the disbelieving face of his father glaring down at him as he still sat with only his boxers gathered around his ankles and his belly and hands covered with --
It was at that moment he remembered the words of a chat buddy who'd once been caught by his older brother in a similar situation:
"Never, ever, cyber with headphones on, unless you're absolutely positive you've locked the door to your room."
* * * * *
Drew got up off his bed, and began stripping down for a shower, lowering the music level to a more manageable level.
He'd waited all day Sunday for the inevitable conversation with his father, even canceling his afternoon date with Melissa. He'd hung around the house, volunteering to do his homework instead of screwing around on his computer, which he now regarded as the source of all his problems. He wished his father would just get it over with, and Drew could relax in the knowledge that the worst was over, but nothing happened. That was the worst thing with the old man: waiting for the meltdown. Sunday became Monday, and that was followed by Tuesday and... well, you get the picture. Andy McKinnon was short with him, but not cruel. Drew sighed with relief. He wouldn't have to pack up and move off after all. He knew that was a possibility. He'd read about it, seen it in the news. That was another reason he fought down that part of himself...
There was a soft knock at the door, and the sound of his grandmother's voice. "Drew, honey? Can I come in?"
Drew pulled on his shower robe and opened the door.
"Whatever," he said listlessly, and slumped into the desk chair, careful to keep the robe closed.
Rita McKinnon slipped into the room, and gently eased the door shut. She walked over and sat on the edge of the bed, but not before she casually reached over and opened the nightstand drawer and pulling out the package of Marlboros, lighter, and the small ashtray hidden there.
Drew raised an eyebrow. "Guess I don't have any privacy at all, huh?"
Rita narrowed her eyes at him. "Don't be getting' pissy with me, kid. I'm not the enemy. If you weren't such a slob, I wouldn't have to come in here at all, like with your laundry and to change your bed. And if you're gonna hide something, don't leave the drawer open. I figured out why I had the stray pack of butts missing a long time ago. But it was maybe one every three weeks, so I just kept my mouth shut."
Drew made a face, and even tried a half-hearted grin. "Sorry, Nan."
She nodded. "You ought to be. And unless you want to wind up like me, fighting for every breath you take after you come up those stairs, you won't mess with these things." She waved the glowing butt in the air, the gray smoke drifting listlessly towards the ceiling.
Drew was prepared for the onslaught of anti-smoking lecture from a woman who had smoked two packs a day for over fifty years, but was spared. Rita had other ideas.
"We've got some business to talk about, kid. Your dad's real worried about you and... well... all this."
"I'm not a queer!" the boy shouted desperately.
Rita flicked her ashes, not sure how to proceed. She'd wheedled the whole story out of her younger son, a story Andy didn't want to talk about much. She'd developed her own ideas on the subject of Drew a few years earlier. It wasn't an unfamiliar one in her life. She'd made some mistakes handling it the first time around, and she was determined not to have history repeat itself.
She took in her grandson's face. Anger on the surface, the eyes squinted up as they'd been not long ago on the kitchen when the boy had squared off with his father. Under the anger, she saw fear and confusion. Part of her wanted to rush to the boy, to take him in her arms and tell him it was all going to be okay. But Rita knew her McKinnon men and whatever damned defective gene it was that made them shun comfort and tenderness. God, they were stubborn! Until she got him calmed down, Drew would just push her away and ignore her.
She took a long drag on her cigarette. "Honey, I never said you were. I just want you to know that whatever's going on inside you, I'm here. You're my only grandchild, and the only thing I want for you is what's best. Whatever you are or aren't doesn't matter to me. As long as you're not some conscienceless killer or a thief, or a molester or something, I'm here for you. And even if you were one of those things, it wouldn't make me love you any less - be afraid of you maybe, but I'd never stop loving you. And if you happen to be gay, I don't care, and I'm not afraid of that.
Drew started to interrupt, but she raised her hand.
"NO!" she said sharply. "Don't go off again. I'm not saying that you are gay. I'm saying it doesn't make any difference if you are."
Drew stared at the floor, stealing a stealthy upward glance at his grandmother. He didn't remember much about his real mother, only this woman who had taken him in charge almost since before he could remember. Most of the time, part of him thought of her as "mom." He knew that tight look on her face; knew there was no danger to him, just concern. Part of him wanted to tell her everything; another part of him wanted to run out of the room and hide himself in shame.
Rita looked at the boy, and the lines of his almost-a-man face softened into the face of a terrified five year-old watching his mother taken down a flight of stairs strapped to a gurney, a white body bag zipped up and over her face. She saw the same fear, desperation, and loneliness she'd seen then. She also saw the hard blue nuggets that would never cry in front of her or anyone else.
"What the hell does he want from me?" Drew wailed. "What's he trying to do to me?"
"He wants what's best for you, Drew," she began. "You might not believe this, but your father doesn't want to hurt you, and this thing he checked out isn't some kind of aversion therapy. It's a group for kids who are or think they might be gay."
The boy shrugged and made a pale laugh. "Hey, no problem then. I ain't gay, and I don't think I am, so there's no need for me to go. Kewl, Nanny. Tell him I'm goin' out with Melissa instead."
Rita pressed her lips together, then let out a sigh. She sought comfort in another deep drag on her cigarette and coughed. "It's not that easy, kid," she said gently. "He knows what he saw you doing, he knows what he saw someone else doing on that screen, and he saw the pictures you had all over your monitor. It's not the kind of thing your ordinary straight boy does."
Drew's face reddened momentarily at her unabashed honesty, then turned away to hide his embarrassment.
"And as for Melissa," she continued, "well, to tell the truth, I couldn't think of a better reason for you to be gay than her. She's a nasty piece of business."
Drew didn't say anything, just hung his head over his arm. It occurred to him that maybe he should defend his girl-friend, but it didn't matter. Melissa really was a bitch.
"Now go take a shower and get dressed. Your father's determined to go through with this."
"Yeah," he said bitterly. "And I gotta have Daddy drop me off and pick me up too, just like I'm some little kid. Don't that beat everything."
The old lady raised her own eyebrow this time. "You expect me to believe that you'd go any other way?"
Drew didn't even try to play a game with her. He just looked up and smiled. "Prob'ly not."
A faint smile crossed her lips. "That's what he figured, too. Now, go get cleaned up and dressed. Andy meant it when he said he'd call in the cops if one of those cars disappeared from the driveway, so if you've got any ideas about sneaking off, I'd let them go. He's not a monster, Drew. He's trying to help you. He only wants what's best for you."
Drew looked up at her almost pleading. "I ain't queer, Nanny. Honest."
Rita rose slowly from the edge of the bed, and ran her fingers through her grandson's hair and sighed. Then she hugged his head to her hip for a moment and left the room as quietly as she had come. Halfway down the staircase, she heard the door open and Drew's feet plodding along the hall, then the sound of water running and the light slam of the bathroom door. She smiled, and continued downward to deal with her other problem, who was still seated in the kitchen, his head propped on his elbows.
"I've got him started, anyway," she said to her son.
Andy sat at the table and grunted. "It's about time. I thought I was gonna have to bathe him, too."
"Now, that would have been a sight. I wonder who would've drowned who?"
Andy looked up at her and squinted one eye. "You know, I really could use a little support here, Ma. It's not like I'm trying to have him committed or anything."
"No, it isn't, but to be blunt, your methods suck," Rita said as she settled back into her rattan rocker. "You could've tried talking to him about this in advance, instead of steamrolling him the way you did. You're just like your father that way." She clucked her tongue several times, then pulled over the floor-standing ash tray and ground her cigarette out before lighting up another.
Andy was going to make his usual remark about her chain-smoking, but wisely decided against it. "I didn't try to steam-roll him, Ma. I spent all week looking for local programs that could help him out a little. Believe it or not, I put a lot of thought into this. I'm worried about him, and I don't want to see that kid hurt. And you heard him - he keeps swearing up and down that he isn't gay."
"Maybe he's not." She nudged the hassock with her foot and set the rocker in motion. "That ever occur to you?"
Andy shook his head. "I know what straight boys do when they're looking for a little lonely fun, ma. And they don't get on line with another guy and... and..."
Rita inhaled deeply and fought down a hacking cough. "The phrase is jack-off, Andy. I seem to recall you being rather an expert at it when you were younger."
Andy's face burned with embarrassment, and his eyes momentarily widened.
"And you weren't always so careful about locking your door, either," she continued. "And maybe you didn't have a computer, but you had plenty of magazines stashed all over the place, so don't you get all high and mighty about it to me."
Andy McKinnon sat bolt upright at the table working his jaw open and closed, and crossing the line from red to crimson.
Rita kept firing on her target. "The only difference between the two of you is the subject of the fantasies, and the fact he had some company to make it a little more 'real.' I'm not saying what he did was ok, but I am saying it wasn't a major crime, either."
Andy shook his head, then made a stab at keeping his voice reasonable. "Ma, I'm not saying it was a crime either. Okay, maybe you knew about my magazines, and maybe I was keeping them a secret, but I wasn't keeping what I wanted some dark secret, either."
"No, you weren't. You were straight, so it was easy for you to talk about it and deal with it. You could talk to anybody. But it's different with Drew. Drew isn't straight, or not completely. He at least has bi tendencies, there's no mistaking that. But for him to admit that is a very hard thing right now, and you're pushing it."
Andy looked up at her. "Am I that much of a monster, Ma? Do I make fag jokes or anything like that?"
"You don't. You might use the words now and then, and God knows you've got a mouth on you, but you never make fun of people for that. But if you think about it, you're probably the exception. Drew hears it every day at school -- fag. Homo. Cocksucker. You even use that one when you're pissed, and you know better." She gave him a sidewise glance and a wry smile. "Think I don't remember what you and your friends called each other when you thought I couldn't hear you? I'm pretty sure boys his age still call each other 'cocksucker' when they're ticked off, or run across a kid who's a little different from them. At least it seems that way to me when I hear 'em on the street, and I don't think things have changed that much over the years. That's what Drew's dealing with, Andy. He's different, he knows it, and he's afraid of it. He doesn't even want to admit the possibility of his being gay to himself, even if he's just playing out some fantasies. So can you imagine how hard it is for him to admit it to you? Or go into a room tonight with a bunch of other teenagers and admit it to them?"
She paused, letting the message sink in.
Andy slumped down onto his elbows again shaking his head. "I guess I'm kind of cornering him after all, aren't I?"
"You're just like your father, Andy. Except where he wouldn't budge an inch on his views, you want to go overboard and bury the kid with acceptance. But if you're not careful, you'll drive Drew away the same way your father did to Brian."
Andy banged an open palm onto the table, his face flushing with anger. "Dad threw Brian out, Ma! I'm not doing that. I'm not dad."
Rita didn't like the way Andy disowned his own father, but she understood. Andy never quite forgave his father for the way he treated his older brother, but there was more to it than that. "No, but you can still drive him out, for sure. And don't lay it all off on your father either, Andy. You made it pretty easy for Brian to leave."
The memory made him miserable. He could still see the look in Brian's pale, gray eyes the last time Andy was ever to see him. Brian had come to say goodbye, and instead of throwing himself at his older brother the way he wanted, Andy had taken his father's line. He'd cursed him and spat on the floor. It was the most vivid memory of his childhood, and the one Andy McKinnon wanted least to hold on to.
"I was only fourteen," he said in a low voice. "I didn't really understand what was going on."
"And your brother was eighteen, and he did everything he could to explain it to you, and you gave him the same crap your father did. But you forgot he was your brother, and you treated him like he was some piece of garbage that fell out of the trash. I never forgot that, Andy, even if you try stepping around it. I know Brian never forgot it either, and he was afraid to even talk to you after that. Afraid to talk to any of us, for that matter. So he went away. And years later he died alone, and had a friend of his write us about his funeral - a week after it'd taken place. Part of what you're doing with Drew is trying to make up for Brian, and you know it. Just don't push too far to make up for the past, or you might lose him, too."
Andy nodded, then sighed. "That's why I'm doing this, Ma. I'm making sure I don't lose him the way I lost Brian."
* * * * *
Eileen Curran stood in the doorway of her brother's room, watching quietly. Alan scared her, sometimes. The kid was seventeen, and he was like an automaton around the house. He was so damned silent. Not the sometime sullenness of a teenager... just silent. He moved soundlessly, almost like a jungle cat intent on keeping itself invisible to its enemies.
Alan left no trail of himself. He cleaned up either his own mess or any other small mess left behind with a quiet precision that left her unnerved sometimes. Eileen was used to clutter from long years of living alone, since her quick marriage had dissolved into a slow divorce. Not actual dirt - just the clutter of a person accustomed to living alone and resigned to the fact that things were most easily found where they were last left. She'd never been one much for organization, and attempts to 'put things in their place' around the house usually meant she didn't have the damndest idea where things were. Now she just asked Alan, since he took care of all that.
He was sitting at his computer, quietly clacking away. He knew she was there; he had ears like a cat. She'd seen his shoulders stiffen. She asked a question she already knew the answer to. "Hey, kid. Going out tonight? It's Friday, after all."
Alan turned, and looked at her politely. He gave her a tentative smile, which was something new these days. Alan never smiled much, always kept a proper poker face. But then, she told herself, he never had much to smile about before.
It wasn't bad after a year and a half if Alan could smile and really mean it. Sometimes he even looked relaxed around her. Once or twice in the last few months he'd even made jokes. His eyes were still hooded sometimes, and there was suspicion deep inside him, but it wasn't like it used to be. It wasn't all that long ago that to look Alan in the eye meant looking at the eye of fear. And he didn't shake like he used to when you came up on him.
He minimized the open chat window, but left the image on screen. Alan was online with his new friend, David. David must have seen her in the range of the web cam, and he waved. She couldn't be sure but she thought his mouth formed a 'Hi, Eileen.' David had become a fixture in Alan's life these days, which was fine with her. Alan didn't have many friends. Correction, she told herself. Until David, Alan never had any friends.
Lee had a good idea that they were more than just friends, but she didn't say anything about that. Her father made sure there was no secret about Alan's sexuality the day she'd helped her brother pack up his pathetic bundles and move out of the house she'd grown up in. It had been a nice home then, with her mother still alive. She wouldn't go so far as to say it was a perfect home, but it wasn't a bad home by any means. But once she was gone, her father had changed and so had the house. For her brother, it was a prison.
She still had memories of that first day. Alan arrived with little more than a hand full of clothing. Lee had left behind the old furniture, stuff remembered from her own childhood that was cheap even back then. God, even the mattress was the same, and it was worn out when she left. Other than that there wasn't much more than a cheap boom box with a blown speaker and an old black-and-white 8" Hitachi TV set, also left behind when she went off to her first and only year of college.
How could her father change so much? How could he let his son have nothing?
The same way he could kick the shit out of the kid and not see anything wrong with that, was the obvious answer.
The two of them made some fast stops after a quick, early lunch. The first was to the Marshall's discount outlet where she dropped three quarters of her father's first monthly support money on new clothing for Alan. The kid almost literally had nothing to wear that was in decent shape. The second stop was Best Buy. She parked him at the CD racks and told him to pick out a hundred bucks of music and walked off. One moderately-priced TV set and stand and a decent pair of speakers and CD player later, they were on their way home again. Lee still had her old receiver back at her house gathering dust in a closet. It'd been state-of-the-art when she bought it, and was still pretty damned good. She'd only replaced it when Frank bought her a new surround system for Christmas.
When they pulled into the drive, she and Alan struggled the TV set out of the back of her Escort wagon and into the kitchen. Alan pushed the box to the living room than paused, staring at her 36" Panasonic, confused.
"All the way down the hall, and through the door at the end. That's going to be your room," she told him. Something flickered in the boy's eyes, but he didn't say anything. Eileen followed with the speakers, then left to dig out her old Pioneer receiver. Alan was still staring when she got back.
She grinned reassuringly "This stuff is yours, kid, just like all the clothes we bought today. When you get things set up, I want you to sort through all the crap we brought over from Daddy Dearest's. Anything that fits and looks decent, we save; anything too small and looks decent, we give to the Salvation Army. The rest goes into the ragbag. I won't have my brother looking like he stepped out of Poverty Row. Now, set up that TV stand and get going. I want everything done before we eat dinner. Put the set over there," she said, pointing to a corner. "There's a cable outlet still active. We'll get a new converter box on Monday."
She'd watched him struggle with the boxes, all the more awkwardly because of the bandages on his hand and the splints on his fingers, but Alan had managed. It didn't take him long to get the stand set up. Lee returned with the second VCR she had set up on her own system, which she didn't really need since she couldn't remember the last time she'd bootlegged a movie. Alan wired everything into the receiver, once she told him how to plug the audio from the cable into the VCR for stereo sound. Everything else went together normally. Then she told him to get busy sorting through the clothing and she left to make them some dinner.
When they'd finished eating Eileen made a call to Frank, and asked him to drop by to meet her brother who'd be staying with her "for awhile". Alan had eaten his dinner as he did everything else - silently. As soon as she picked up the phone Alan got busy cleaning up the dishes and wiping down the counters and table. When he heard the phrase "for awhile," he froze. Then, he folded the rag carefully, draped it over the spigot and set off slowly down the hall, walking lightly on the balls of his feet.
Lee watched him creep silently past with his head down. She wrapped the call up fast and went after the boy. Alan's door was open and he was seated on the edge of what was now 'his' bed - a comfortable full-size mattress, still unmade.
"Alan? What's wrong?"
He looked up with those dead lizard eyes. "I heard what you said, that's all. About me only staying for awhile." He paused, and looked away. Then his head snapped up, and his expression and tone reminded her of Haley Joel Osment looking up and stating so matter-of-factly "I see dead people." Eileen saw the pain in his eyes.
"Please don't send me back there," he pleaded. "I heard him tell you I'm a cocksucker, and it's true, but I swear I'll stop if you let me stay here. I'll never do it again."
It was exactly the phrase her father had used, among others, but Eileen didn't care. Maybe her brother was a stranger to her, and they could never have been called close, but that didn't mean it was right for him to be treated the way he was. That was her father's way of daring her to take the boy away. He didn't even try to fight her in court; a few revelations would have meant jail time for him. The informal agreement between the DSS investigator granted her custody of the child and a support payment from her father. Eileen didn't care about the support payment. She wasn't rich from her job, but she had enough to support Alan, although there would be odd times when they would just scrape by. That support money went into a joint account with Alan's name on it and to buy the boy the 'extras' in life he'd been denied. Extras like decent clothing and a comfortable bed.
Eileen tried to hug him, but it was like trying to embrace a marble statue. She calmed him down, told him the truth - he was never going back. The tears stopped, but the body she tried to hold stayed rigid all the same.
She never said anything to imply that his living there was anything but permanent again.
Eileen blinked, and reality came back to her, and Alan was still seated at his computer desk, answering her question.
"Don't think so, Lee. Just gonna be on-line for awhile, maybe watch some tube later. You going out with Frank tonight?" He asked the last part in what for him were eager tones; for anyone else, mild interest. She wondered if maybe David might be "dropping by" after she and Frank left.
Eileen smiled. Alan liked Frank, even though Frank swore the kid looked right through him sometimes. He'd heard the short version of Alan Curran's life and he tried to understand.
"Yup," she said. "I have to sit through some action-adventure tonight. After all, I made him do my movie last week. Should I leave the door open?"
Alan nodded. "Please."
She walked down the hall to her own bedroom. The door was a question mark to her. She remembered how she'd fought to keep it closed at his age, defending her privacy. But Alan's experience was different from hers. A closed door didn't mean privacy to him. Part of Alan still believed he was locked in his room if she closed the door. Just like he still played the radio or television at the lowest possible volume level, so it wouldn't disturb and irritate her.
And walked on the balls of his stocking feet, just so he wouldn't make any noise, as he had just done now and was standing at her door. Now that bothered her, although she knew it was just Alan trying not to disturb her. It was like being snuck up on, even if that wasn't true. Alan just didn't want his presence known unless it had to be. That's what he was raised to think was 'correct' behavior. So she wasn't really shocked when she looked back and saw that Alan appeared at her door and was waiting for her to notice him.
"Lee? You think it'd be okay if I went out with David in a little while? He says he can pick me up."
Eileen laughed. "Alan, you're seventeen. I don't expect you to ask my permission to go see a friend now and then - just let me know where you're going. Be home at a decent hour, okay? And if you're going to stay over David's again, make sure you call."
And have some fun for yourself, she thought, smiling.
Alan pushed off eagerly from the door jamb and Eileen heard his door gently close. Guess he has to get dressed for a date, too, she told herself. Wherever you came from, David, thanks for helping him find a life.
* * * * *
Alan began clicking away into the message window for David:
            >"All set, pick me up and we go to group. You ask Chris, or he still moping?"
       <"He's coming. Pick him up then swing over to you. See you in about half hour."
Alan closed the Yahoo chat, shut down the KameraBuddies window, and David disappeared.
They were both still worried about Chris St. Jacques, even though he'd broken up with his boyfriend over three months ago. It hadn't been an easy break-up either, and Chris still had his bad moments. Of course, the two of them seeing each other at school every day didn't help. David said they didn't have any classes together that term, which helped Chris a lot, but they still ran into each other often enough. It didn't help that in other ways, Jamie Levesque was a nice guy. He just couldn't keep it in his pants.
Still, Chris was better off than Alan had been, back when he'd been a freshman at Lawrence Catholic High. His only neighborhood friend back in North Andover had been a year ahead of him at school, and for awhile they'd hung out together, which was cool for Alan since they also had something going on the side between them for a year. They hadn't exactly been what you would call boyfriends, really. But when the sex started, Alan welcomed it even if it wasn't his idea. They were the only kids close to each other in age in that neighborhood, and no one seemed to pay much attention to how much time they spent together.
Being together in the same school made a difference.
Alan didn't fit in. Alan was mousey and quiet. Alan didn't play athletics.
Speculation started since they were together so much... and that scared his friend enough to break them up.
Then people wanted to know just why they used to hang together so much, but suddenly didn't any more...
And one day he started telling everyone how Alan had turned into a fag on him, and tried to get in his pants. What few friends Alan had at school bailed on him quick after that. Then his father got wind of the news - he was never certain how, but then there's always someone happy to spread bad news - and his miserable life got worse. The beatings started again, both at home and at school. He couldn't do anything at school, or the Brothers might see the scars, and all hell would break lose then. Alan didn't have much, but at least he had a home, and the last thing he wanted was to trade it for was some state home.
Hey, screw all that, it's over, Alan told himself and began to turn to something more important. Like finding the right clothes for tonight so he'd look good next to David in a room full of other gay kids. It still amazed him anyone like David could be interested in him.
And who knew - maybe Chris might meet something hot and bounce back. After all, 90% of the reason for going was Chris.
* * * * *
Drew McKinnon stood in front of what had once been the Franciscan Seminary tucked into a quiet corner of Andover on River Road. It hadn't been a seminary for decades, although the Franciscan Order of Friars still maintained a small presence there. The bulk of the building had been turned into the Christian Formation Center, a Catholic organization that was connected officially to the Archdiocese of Boston, but still under the control of the Franciscan Prior who reported elsewhere. Among other things, the CFC offered CCD classes - religion classes for Catholic youth who went to public or private sectarian schools, but whose parents still wanted the foundation of their faith taught to their children. Drew had been sent to a parochial school until eighth grade and then enrolled at Lawrence Catholic High School from grade nine on. He'd never set foot in this building, never done more than just pass by a few times. This end of River Road was well out of the way for anything in his life.
This particular stretch was still mostly in the woods, although expensive homes cropped up here and there. The nearest neighbor was the decrepit Monastery of St. Claire across the road. Unlike the former Franciscan Seminary, the Monastery really was deserted, a fabulous-looking shell with little plumbing and less electrical wiring that would soon be knocked down in favor of either another elegant development of pricey condos or small McMansions perched on five or more acres of land. Some suggested other low-cost alternatives, but Andover was a wealthy town that gave lip service to many liberal causes - as long as it meant housing lower-income people elsewhere, like in nearby Lawrence. Lawrence had always been the Immigrant City, where the first generations of newcomers without money settled to work in the mills. Those who did well would be able to afford the small homes of Methuen, and if they did better the larger lots in North Andover although that was changing. Those who did really well would secure an Andover address, and therefore understand the need to maintain the status quo of the housing situation, no matter what the state said with its un-enforced anti-snob zoning statutes.
Of course, none of that meant a damn thing to Drew McKinnon as he reluctantly pushed open the door of the Christian Formation Center, cursing his father yet again. The old man had not only insisted on driving him there and picking him up later, but he'd also taken away his cell phone to make sure Drew didn't call any friends to pick him up. Fat chance of that, Drew told himself. The last thing he wanted was his friends knowing he was here the same night some gay group got together. Jesus, if that got out around school...
There was a blond guy around his own age sitting at a small table in the middle of the lobby. If I weren't straight, I'd say he was cute, Drew thought fleetingly. Oh man, now I'm even starting to THINK like a fag!
The boy flashed him a big smile with his large mouth. "You here for the UUSCGLBTY meeting?"
Drew stood in front of him blinking his total lack of comprehension.
The blond guy laughed at his expression. "That's the Universalist-Unitarian Student Conference for Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Transgendered Youth. We meet here every other week. There's no forms to fill out, no telephone lists or anything like that - you just hang out and talk. But if you turn into some kind of basher, we call the cops and prosecute under the Massachusetts Hate Crimes Act. Anyone else between the ages of thirteen and twenty-two are welcome to attend."
Drew stepped back and glanced around nervously. "You guys get bashers here? Straight guys looking for trouble?"
Blondie smiled, casually looking Drew over. This one wasn't afraid of being physically bashed. Just being outed. He knew the closet type well. He should; he'd spent enough time there himself. And damn, this one was hot enough to slip into a closet with.
He shrugged. "Not too often. Every now and then we get a couple straight guys in here looking to make trouble, but once they find out the Universalist Church doesn't give a damn whose kid they are and we prosecute 'em, they don't come back much. I seen two events since I started coming three years ago - and I looked pretty much scared as you, so ease up, 'kay?"
Drew was suddenly aware he was being checked out, and while on one level he was angry, another felt more than a bit flattered. In spite of what he kept telling himself, this guy was attractive, and he liked the attention.
No. Don't go there, he told himself. Think of Melissa. Shit, bad example. Think of any chick BUT Melissa.
"I thought this was a Catholic Center?"
Blondie shrugged. "It is, but the Franciscans are pretty liberal and don't mind dealing with different churches that need space. The Universalist groups in the area got together and rent some space here, and they run the meetings. The Archdiocese of Boston doesn't bitch about us being here since they can't control what the Franciscans do, anyway. Oh, and I'm Marc -- Marc with a 'c'." He grinned and held out a hand to be shaken.
Drew stared at it stupidly, then very tentatively reached out and shook it.
The boy's face took on an amused look. "Uh, people do call you something, don't they? I mean, something besides the hot-lookin' blue-eyed dude with black hair?"
Drew blushed but was still hesitant. Should he give his real name? When he'd met guys before, he never had. But this was different, wasn't it? This was a meeting for gay kids, not a cruise party for -
He cleared his throat. "I'm... I'm Drew."
From behind him, Drew heard the door from the parking lot open and he turned, half afraid it was someone he knew. He relaxed for a moment, seeing a very attractive Italian-looking guy stepping into the lobby with a good-looking shorter kid with a long, slightly pointed nose. Then there was a movement directly behind them, and another body stepped out and took his place next to the Italian babe.
Drew froze. He knew the face, all too well. They'd even been friends... once. But Drew had thrown the guy to the wolves to cover his own tracks. The last person in the world he wanted to run into tonight was Alan Curran.
But it wasn't Alan who spoke, it was the short guy with the nose, who's face was twisted into a look of anger and disgust.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Chris St. Jacques growled.